Before I dive into this essay, I want to make one thing clear: I have never, ever, in the history of ever, endorsed Derrick Jaxn or any of the heterosexual men who peddle benevolent sexism in book form. I will not read their takes in a book; I will not play their perspectives on a podcast; I will not hit like on their Instagram posts; I will not cop a conference ticket. I do not endorse Jaxn or any other relationship “experts” here, there, or anywhere. And I hope, after you read this, you too, can stop lining the pockets of these relationship charlatans.
I give this note because many a misogynoirist see revelation of Jaxn’s infidelity as a cause célèbre, particularly on the heels of Saweetie’s classy dismissal of her allegedly wayward former lover, one Quavious Keyate Marshall. In the context of the mythological “gender wars,” that take over certain corners of various social media spaces, the reveal that the supposed champion of Black women and heterosexual marriage Derrick Jackson absolutely had not respected his marriage appears to have shocked many. And yet what leaves me in surprise is that so many of his adherents, an audience that comprises presumably a sizable portion of Black women, appear shocked at the reveal that the relationship guru is actually an agent of chaos.
If I put on my sociologist hat to give a rough estimate of who defines Jaxn’s audience, I would say that they are likely early millennial and Gen X, single, and potentially in possession of several markers of middle-class status. For example, a college degree or a stable income a standard deviation or two above the average income for their group. Almost certainly, the majority of them identify as straight or heterosexual. And this identifier, often presumed to endow a person with privilege, when added to the lived reality of Black women, actually opens a sizable group of women to exploitation. The intersectionality of it all.
The False Promise of Privilege for Heterosexual Black Women
Don’t get me wrong. Marriage and relationship charlatans come in many racial, gender, and ethnic identities. Beyond that, as Jane Ward argues in her latest book The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, much of the relationship charlatan circuit propagates beliefs rooted in white supremacy. The product that Jackson trades in does not reflect some esoteric knowledge or wisdom about dating and relationships, but rather it showcases a massive capitalist enterprise fueled by large-scale changes in the global economy coupled with overall cultural shifts in gender relations. This set of conditions has literally created a market for people to convince those who identify as heterosexuals – because this is by far a heterosexual phenomenon – that despite all evidence, twentieth-century modes of relationships are here to stay.
So why am I taking the time to write this, given my clear stance very much against this kind of relationship racket? The answer is simple. I do not know who Jackson’s wife’s people are, but I know they wrong for having sis looking like she does in her husband’s obligatory non-apology video. And I know I don’t ever want to see a Black woman sitting up next to any man doing a video like that ever again.
Recorded and edited non-apologies are a key theme in most influencer genres of content creation. From Nazi jokes to child sexual harassment, influencers who have violated social norms in some way have found means to ward off well-deserved cancellations through the use of non-apology videos that operate at two levels. First, they act as self-absolution without reparation. Notice, in the Jaxn video, he and his wife, Da’Naia Jackson, assert the matter has resolved through a vaguely named “change.” Yet, what manner of repentance this woman actually received goes unnamed. Second, non-apologies function to capitalize off the perceived indiscretion, whether to gain an audience, profit directly from the non-apology itself, or in Jaxn’s case – use the non-apology as marketing material for other products. Jaxn hopes you’d like to learn how he “overcame” his infidelity by purchasing his book. Oh, and while you’re at it, grab a t-shirt.
Observe the shamelessness with which Jaxn folds infidelity into the norms of what the church he frequently invokes asserts should include heterosexual monogamy only. Indeed, he downplays the level of his betrayal by stating that many people would not consider his actions infidelity and that as a Christian man, that life is now behind him. With the assertion of his Christianity, Jaxn once again dangles before his audience a glimmering object of desire. For Black women who identify as heterosexual, the Black church is one of few spaces that reinforces the privilege of heterosexuality through norms of marriage. Within the context of a society that derides unmarried Black women through various controlling images, the illusion that Jaxn conjures – that he will match you in status and values – plays right into the hopes of countless women who desire to settle down.
Race, Gender, and Compulsory Heterosexuality
I have actually wanted to write about compulsory heterosexuality on this blog for quite some time and Jaxn’s shenanigans provide a perfect digital culture example to address how I think the phenomenon affects Black women. After all, despite my belief about the lack of accurate information about marriage, I will not downplay the reality of the ways our society privileges marriage and heterosexuality in a capitalist society uniquely affect Black women. Given the countless social and economic advantages associated with marriage and the additional privilege of heterosexuality, who would not want someone to affirm all they desire is real?
Adrienne Rich confronted societal assumptions about heterosexuality in her landmark essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence“. In the essay, Rich argues that the patriarchal ideology of heterosexuality disempowers women in different ways, depending on their sexual identities. The intimate relationship between patriarchy and heterosexuality leads to further oppression for non-heterosexual women. Ever since I read Rich’s essay, I have asked myself: what do we learn about how compulsory heterosexuality in contemporary society when we center Black women?
Shortly after I wrote that question, I dipped back into the social media echo chamber of my Twitter feed to see what else had transpired. It seemed Twitter sleuths had traversed to another side of the social media sphere to collect evidence of the wife’s perspective from her personal, yet public Instagram profile. As I had suspected, the wife’s self-presentation of poise and nonchalance in the video with her husband betrayed what she herself admits on her Instagram includes low self-esteem and preoccupation with the husband’s objects of heterosexual desire. In one post Mrs. Jackson reinforces colorism with the admission that she struggled to accept her husband appeared to have attraction toward women with darker skin than her.
Another post she made discussed how she had vowed as a child to save herself for marriage, but she perceives herself as having “broken” the vow as a victim of sexual assault and sexual coercion. In her book Passionate and Pious, Monique Moultrie writes about the negative effects on Black women of church teachings that make no distinction between consensual sex and sexual abuse. The insistence that virginity refers to first-time sexual encounters marked by the breaking of the hymen continues to reinforce misogynistic understandings of sexuality rooted in scientific sexism and eugenics. This leaves Black Christian women victimized through sexual abuse living in shame.
However, I am troubled by the hyperfocus on dark skin as she appears to associate skin tone with various tropes, particularly hypersexuality. This language draws on a controlling image of a dark skin Jezebel that she constructs in dichotomy to herself as a lighter skin Madonna. This dichotomy thus implies that lighter women are more worthy of marriage, a belief that leads to material inequalities among Black women based on their skin tone. In this way, Mrs. Jackson has cast herself as a tragic mulatto of sorts, at the expense of the dark skin woman she alleges her husband objectified.
While many religions reinforce the notion of virginal wives, the added dimension of colorism creates a gendered and racialized experience of marriage and dating that disproportionately devalues dark skin Black women. Therefore for Black women, compulsory heterosexuality involves disempowerment through an interplay of religiosity, colorism, misogyny, and anti-Blackness.
Hope for Black Women Looking for Love
I could hit you over the head with charts and tables with data points that suggest that Black women get married at a lower rate than the rest of the population. However, I will not do that because I assert that these metrics exploit statistical methods in a way that reinforces longstanding stereotypes. The truth is, there is no accurate data about Black women in long-term relationships because most so-called nationally representative surveys or censuses simply do not ask if you got a man at home, but y’all ain’t trying to do all that paperwork.
In other words, the sources of information that claim to measure marriage in the United States do not adequately account for the ways Black people have historically practiced their partnerships. Add in that these very same censuses often do not account for sexual identity, you have a recipe for just as much misinformation about marriage as you do enlightenment. The dubiousness about Black romantic partnerships is exactly what relationship race charlatans exploit.
The way our society emphasizes the marital status of Black women plays well into controlling images like the welfare mother or the Sapphire. If we are to trust the metrics, we find that marital rates in the United States are lower than they were in the twentieth-century, regardless of people’s racial and ethnic background. Further, the percentage of children raised by a single-parent in the United States for each racial group has remained relatively stable since 2010.
I share this information to emphasize that the norms and discourse around heterosexual marriage in the United States are rooted in the white supremacist social construction of Black women as undesirable and unworthy partners for marriage. If you internalize that belief, then you will almost certainly buy into that very same rhetoric repackaged as advice or expertise from people who actually have no positionality to shift the imbalance. After all, the rates of marriage and single-parenthood among Black men tend to parallel that of Black women. That said, anyone trying to convince you they should profit off your journey to romantic partnership is clearly a fraud and deserves none of your time, money, or attention.